THE SLAYING Monday of a women’s advocate in Afghanistan underlined one of the greatest dangers of the approaching withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops: that the fragile gains of women in the 11 years since the downfall of the Taliban will be reversed. Though the international mission in Afghanistan has fallen short of many of its goals, the lives of the country’s women have improved: Some 3 million are now in school, compared to none in 2001; 10 percent of the judiciary and 20 percent of university graduates are female.
However, with its ability to challenge NATO and Afghan troops diminished, the Taliban is increasingly targeting people like Najia Seddiqi, the director of the women’s affairs department in the eastern province of Laghman, who was gunned down as she headed to work. Her predecessor was also murdered, by a bomb planted under her car, after she protected a young woman who refused to marry a man she had been promised to. Such attacks can be expected to intensify as U.S. troops withdraw from provincial areas in favor of an Afghan army that, according to the Pentagon’s latest report, is unprepared to defend the country on its own.